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Twelve round of 32, Sweet 16 match-ups we crave

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The NCAA tournament is the greatest event in the modern sports calendar. Other postseasons, from the professional ranks to the BCS, are facile when compared to the NCAAs, a tournament with a level of complexity unseen in any other championship setting. Not only do teams have to prep for their first-round opponent, they also have to additionally gameplan for the two teams they may face should they win, contests that happen as short as 48 hours in the future.

Save the 16-1 games, it is hard to predict the other 63 outcomes. While we love those first round games, and have highlighted which ones have attained ‘must see’ status, here are twelve round of 32 and Sweet 16 match-ups we hope materialize in the coming weeks.

MORE: The Dummy’s Guide to filling out a bracket

ROUND OF 32

The winner of No. 5 VCU/No. 12 Stephen F. Austin vs. the winner of No. 4 UCLA/No. 13 Tulsa — South — March 23

This is a great pod, including one squad contending for this year’s ‘Florida Gulf Coast’ distinction (Stephen F. Austin), three teams that like to run (Tulsa, UCLA, and VCU all use 68-plus possessions), and an offense (the Bruins) which thoroughly embarrassed the nation’s stingiest defense. All four programs also sport defensive turnover rates that rank within Ken Pomeroy’s top fifty, and whichever two teams advance to the second round game will engage in an up-tempo, steal-laden affair, so we humbly beseech the assigned officiating crew to swallow their whistles and let those two teams play.

No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 10 Saint Joseph’s — East — March 22

When Villanova traveled roughly seven miles to play Saint Joseph’s in early December, the game’s final score, a 30-point thumping by the Wildcats, gave little indication both teams might meet again in the postseason. However, St. Joe’s is brimming with offensive confidence following their Atlantic 10 tournament title. Langston Galloway (57.5 percent from three during the conference tournament) and Halil Kanacevic (back-to-back double doubles against St. Bonaventure and VCU) are carrying a team that is finally living up to the potential expected of the Hawks a year ago, and freshman DeAndre Bembry could be one of the tournament’s breakout stars. This game could be a classic Big Fiv … er … tourney tilt.

PREVIEWS: East Region | South Region | Midwest Region | West Region

No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 7 New Mexico — South — March 23

Sure, everyone is waiting for New Mexico to again break hearts and exit the tournament early for the second straight season, but UNM has a massive chip on its collective shoulder this year. New Mexico was comically underseeded — apparently beating San Diego State twice (including in the Mountain West title game) and Cincinnati during non-conference play was insignificant to the selection committee — and has one league player of the year (Kendal Williams, 16.4 ppg) and one player of the year snub (Cameron Bairstow, 20.3 ppg). Similarly to last year’s team, UNM continues to relish paint touches, but the current Lobo iteration actually makes those interior looks (51.8 percent, as opposed to 46.1 in 2013). It is unclear whether Kansas big Joel Embiid (8.1 rpg, 2.6 bpg) has recovered from his back injury and will play, a development that could drastically hamper KU’s efforts. While Kansas’ efficiency ratings haven’t budged much without the freshman center, opponents are grabbing 69 percent of KU’s misses (up from 62 percent with Embiid in Big 12 play) and the Jayhawks still struggle to defend without fouling.

No. 1 Arizona vs. the winner of No. 8 Gonzaga/No. 9 Oklahoma State — West — March 23

It is too difficult to pick which match-up we’d like to see more, so we’ll describe both! Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart (17.8 ppg) is in the midst of playing himself back into the hearts of NBA GMs, and a strong showing against the Wildcats could springboard Smart into consideration for a lottery pick. Gonzaga, and particularly its bigs, presents defensive problems for Arizona. Sam Dower (15 ppg, 7.1 rpg) thrives on pick and pop jumpers, and consistently knocks down twos from 10 to 15 feet out, an ability which should create halfcourt spacing for Zaga’s talented guards. The head-to-head potential for TJ McConnnell (Arizona) and Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga) would also be a highlight of a Zona-Zags match-up.

No. 3 Creighton vs. No. 6 Baylor — West — March 23

Baylor recovered from a midseason swoon — the Bears lost two of eight over the course of a month — to reach the Big 12 tournament final, and as neither team plays much defense, this game would be decided by whichever squad scores more points. Baylor’s defense enabled conference opponents to score 1.08 points per possessions, likely the worst defensive efficiency rate of any power six conference at-large team, and though Creighton’s Doug McDermott (26.9 ppg) still needs 500 or so points to catch career scoring leader Pete Maravich, he might come close to the record while playing the Bears. Teams dependent on three-point production typically do very well against Baylor — Scott Drew’s squad allows league opponents to convert nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc — and the Bluejays might also set some shooting records in San Antonio. Kenny Cherry is key for Baylor — the guard, and his 35 percent assist rate (ranked eighteenth nationally), is extremely underrated.

MORE: 8 teams that can win it all | TV times | Bracket contest

No. 3 Syracuse vs. No. 6 Ohio State — South — March 22

Both Ohio State and Syracuse are in dire need of redemption. At certain points of the season, the two programs were considered shoo-ins for the Final Four, and now both have many question marks. Since the Cuse started the year with a 25-0 record, they have lost four of six (which doesn’t include their opening ACC tournament loss), but the presence of freshman Tyler Ennis (12.7 ppg, 5.6 apg) and C.J. Fair (16.7 ppg) cannot be discounted. The Buckeyes nearly made the Big Ten tournament final, and appear to have righted themselves, but how far can a stellar defense carry a suspect offense? Even if this game is decided well before the final buzzer, the match-up of Aaron Craft against Ennis will be satisfying.

No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 6 North Carolina — East — March 23

Fans of fast-breaks — which, aren’t we all? — will love this pairing. The Cyclones and Tar Heels are listed thirteenth and eighteenth, respectively, in Pomeroy’s tempo rankings, and we again hope the officiating crew lets this contest play out. As expected for two teams that each use more than 70 possessions per game, both are led by stellar backcourts, including UNC’s Marcus Paige, a 6-foot-1 guard who takes an equal amount of twos (49 percent of his 200 attempts) and threes (39.1 percent of his 202 attempts), and DeAndre Kane, a Cyclones guard who plays basketball like a running back, ping-ponging off defenders until finishing at the rim.

No. 4 San Diego State vs. No. 12 North Dakota State — West — March 22

Of all the NBA prospects in this year’s tournament field, North Dakota State’s Taylor Braun is the most interesting. The 6-foot-7 forward is the prototypical stretch-4, primarily operating within the arc (51 percent from two) but possessing the capability to convert from the perimeter (42.2 percent from deep). Since San Diego State is one of the tourney’s stingiest teams, how Braun fares against a defense which easily handcuffs an opposing player’s scoring will be closely monitored.

SWEET 16

No. 1 Wichita State vs. No. 4 Louisville — Midwest

It is universally agreed that Wichita State received the toughest draw of any number one seed in recent memory, and it isn’t a foregone conclusion that the Shockers will even reach the second weekend, but if Gregg Marshall’s squad does face Louisville, the rematch of last year’s Final Four will be entertaining. This is a much stronger Shocker squad — Fred VanVleet (5.3 apg) is a pass-first point guard propelling a more offensively efficient team (1.15 PPP, as compared to 1.07 in 2013) — and one used to the Cardinals’ trademark defensive intensity. Louisville shouldn’t have been a top seed, but like New Mexico, UL was unfairly underseeded. The improved play from Montrezl Harrell (61.4 percent from two), Luke Hancock (32 percent from three since February 1st), and the continued stellar offensive performance from Russ Smith (52 percent from two, 41 percent from three, and an assist rate of 32 percent) could prove a challenging match-up for WSU’s grinding and physical defense.

No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 UCLA — South

Much like the Pac-12 final, this contest would pair a top-rated defense against an otherworldly offense. UCLA’s Kyle Anderson (14.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg) has proven to be arguably the nation’s most challenging cover, but Florida coach Billy Donovan has numerous options at his disposal to blank Anderson, including the uber-athletic Casey Prather and Michael Frazier II.

No. 3 Duke vs. No. 2 Michigan — Midwest
A rematch from earlier this season, Duke was able to easily dispatch the Wolverines and their ridiculously efficient offense. However, UM has made some subtle tweaks to further offensive production — for starters, Nik Stauskas (17.5 ppg) has left the corner and now plays more on the ball; Caris LeVert, the team’s best iso option, now attempts the third highest percentage of shots — and despite their performance in the Big Ten tournament final, reprising this non-conference tilt could result in a Sweet 16 classic.

No 1. Arizona vs. No. 4 San Diego State — West

Highly ranked defenses combined with world class athletes who thrive both in transition and in the halfcourt. This game fills all the requirements for a GOAT Sweet 16 match-up. The defining match-up could be SDSU’s Josh Davis against the Wildcats’ frontcourt. Davis went from severely underrated at Tulane to now the Aztecs’ interior anchor, so while his efficiency has slipped (which isn’t a knock on Davis — he just gets fewer touches than he did at Tulane), his ability to battle with Kaleb Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon will help deflect defensive pressure and haul in crucial additional possessions.

Macura, Gaston lead No. 13 Xavier over Utah 77-69

CINCINNATI, OH - NOVEMBER 29:  J.P. Macura #55 of the Xavier Musketeers shoots the ball during the game against the North Dakota State University at Cintas Center on November 29, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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CINCINNATI (AP) J.P. Macura emerged from his shooting slump by scoring 18 points, and RaShid Gaston helped No. 13 Xavier get the edge up front against the nation’s top rebounding team on Saturday, leading the Musketeers to a 77-69 victory over Utah.

The Musketeers (8-2) were coming off back-to-back road losses that featured long scoring droughts. Xavier’s balanced offense built a 15-point lead in the first half, and the Musketeers stayed ahead the rest of the way.

Gaston had 11 points and 14 rebounds, helping Xavier to a 33-28 edge on the boards. The Utes (6-2) came in averaging 47.7 rebounds per game. Gaston had nine points and 10 rebounds – one less than Utah’s total – in the first half.

Macura was 5 of 7 from beyond the arc after going only 2 of 16 in his last three games. Trevon Bluiett also scored 18 points.

Freshman Devon Daniels had a career-high 19 points for the Utes, whose two losses have been against ranked Big East teams. They also lost to Butler.

BIG PICTURE

Utah: The Utes’ top two scorers – Kyle Kuzma and Tyler Rawson – were a combined 2 of 10 for five points in the first half as Xavier took control.

Xavier: The Musketeers went through long second-half scoring droughts during their losses. Utah opened the second half with an 11-4 spurt but couldn’t get any closer.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Musketeers figure to slip in the Top 25 based upon their 68-66 loss at Colorado on Wednesday, but limited the damage with their win on Saturday.

UP NEXT

Utah hosts Prairie View A&M next Saturday, and then closes nonconference play the following week in Hawaii as part of the Diamond Head Classic.

Xavier plays the first of four straight home games leading into Big East play, hosting Wake Forest next Saturday in the Skip Prosser Classic.

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

No. 5 Duke routs UNLV 94-45

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 10: Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils smiles during a game against the UNLV at T-Mobile Arena on December 10, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Duke won 94-45. (Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)
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LAS VEGAS (AP) Grayson Allen shot 75 percent from the field – including a perfect 7 of 7 in the second half – en route to a career-high 34 points to lead No. 5 Duke to a 94-45 victory over UNLV on Saturday in the first college basketball game ever played at T Mobile Arena.

Luke Kennard had 16 points and five rebounds for the Blue Devils (10-1), while Jayson Tatum had 13 points and five rebounds, and Amile Jefferson contributed with 10 points and 12 rebounds.

Duke, which is 4-1 on a neutral court, jumped out to a 20-3 lead in the first 7 minutes and never looked back, as it outscored the Runnin’ Rebels 52-19 in the second half.

The Rebels (5-4) tried to make a couple of runs to challenge Duke, getting as close as 38-26 late in the first half after an 8-0 spurt. The Blue Devils answered with their defensive prowess and proved to be too much for an outmatched UNLV team that committed 13 turnovers a little more than 14 minutes into the game, and shot just 34 percent (10 of 29) in the first half.

Though UNLV was competitive on the glass, outrebounding the Blue Devils 20-17 in the first half, Duke outscored the Rebels 26-10 in the paint while opening a 42-26 halftime lead.

Jalen Poyser had 16 points for UNLV.

The Blue Devils shot 58.7 percent (37 of 63) from the field, including 10 of 22 (45.5 percent) from 3-point range. UNLV, meanwhile, shot 29.6 percent (16 of 54) from the field.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: Jefferson came into Saturday’s game leading the ACC in field goal percentage, converting at a rate of 67 percent for the season. He is a career 63 percent shooter from the field.

UNLV: After opening the season 5-2, the Runnin’ Rebels have lost their last two after allowing an average of 95.5 points per game. UNLV lost at Arizona State 97-73 last Saturday.

UP NEXT

Duke: Hosts Tennessee State on Dec. 19

UNLV: Hosts Incarnate Word on Wednesday

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

SATURDAY’S SNACKS: Villanova, Wisconsin earn good wins

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 10: Mikal Bridges #25 of the Villanova Wildcats fights off Martinas Geben #23 and Matt Farrell #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish for control of the ball during the first half of a college basketball game at Prudential Center on December 10, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 1 Villanova 74, No. 23 Notre Dame 66

Josh Hart put together one of the best games we’ll see all season as he put up a career-high 37 points and 11 rebounds to will Villanova to the win. Here are the four things we learned from the game.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 17 Wisconsin 93, Marquette 84: The Badgers avenged last season’s loss to in-state rival Marquette with a solid road win. Putting up 58 points in the second half, Wisconsin had six players finish with at least 11 players as Bronson Koenig led with 18 points. Another solid outing from Nigel Hayes as he ended up with 17 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

No. 16 Butler 75, No. 22 Cincinnati 65: The Bulldogs bounced back from a loss to Indiana State earlier in the week with a win over Cincinnati in Hinkle Fieldhouse. But the real story of this game was the continued struggles of the AAC. How close is this to being a one-bid league?

STARRED

Preseason All-Americans: Josh Hart set his career-high with 37 points while Grayson Allen set his career-high with 34 points.

Rodney Bullock, Providence: The Friars earned another solid win over UMass as Bullock finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds. Bullock was 7-for-14 from the field and he went 10-for-12 from the free-throw line.

Dedric Lawson, Memphis: The sophomore just missed a triple-double as he finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds, eight blocks and three assists in a Memphis win over UAB. Lawson played all 40 minutes.

STRUGGLED

Demontrae Jefferson, Texas Southern: Making his college debut against Louisville, the exciting 5-foot-7 guard showed his talent but was also very inefficient. Jefferson finished with 27 points but was 10-for-30 from the field with 11 turnovers. Watching Jefferson’s run-and-gun style is going to be fascinating this season.

TOP 25

  • Nebraska dug themselves a huge first half whole that they couldn’t overcome, losing to No. 3 Kansas, 89-72.
  • No. 5 Duke blew out UNLV in Vegas, and Grayson Allen may not be allowed to leave the state after this act of felonious assault.
  • No. 11 Louisville cruised to an easy win over Texas Southern as Quentin Snider led the Cardinals with 13 points.
  • J.P. Macura busted out of his shooting slump with five threes as No. 13 Xavier survived Utah at home.
  • Easy win for No. 15 West Virginia as they beat VMI for a home win. Daxter Miles Jr. finished with 20 points and was 5-for-6 from three-point range.
  • No. 18 Purdue raced past Cleveland State as Isaac Haas had 14 points and Caleb Swanigan had 13 points and 10 rebounds.
  • The freshman duo of Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons each had 19 points to pace No. 20 Arizona to a win over Missouri. The Wildcats overcame foul trouble from freshman big man Lauri Markkanen as they shot 54 percent from three-point range.

NOTABLE

  • Syracuse had a big win over Boston to snap a recent cold stretch. John Gillon led the Orange with 23 points while Taurean Thompson had 22 points.
  • Nice home win for Houston over Rhode Island as Rob Gray scored 30 points and Danrad “Chicken” Knowles added 25 points. The Rams are 0-3 on the road and have lost four of their last six games.
  • Michigan State picked up a home win over Tennessee Tech as Eron Harris led with 20 points. The Spartans struggled from the free-throw line in this one — at one point head coach Tom Izzo sat at the end of the bench in frustration.
  • Pitt was able to outlast Penn State as Michael Young finished with 29 points and nine rebounds.

VIDEO: Lonzo Ball caps crazy first half with 30-footer

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 03: Lonzo Ball #2 of the UCLA Bruins reacts after making a three-point basket against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second half of the game at Rupp Arena on December 3, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky. UCLA defeated Kentucky 97-92. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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No. 2 UCLA and Michigan are stuck in the middle of an absolute shootout.

At halftime in Pauley Pavilion, the score is tied at 50 after the two teams combined to shoot 22-for-30 from three.

Seriously.

The highlight?

Ball capping the first half with a three from the logo:

PHOTO: Bryce Harper visits the Duke locker room

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils reacts in the second half against the Yale Bulldogs during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 19, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Duke embarrassed UNLV in Las Vegas on Saturday afternoon.

Not only did they beat the Runnin’ Rebels 94-45, but they made sure that UNLV was on the receiving end of what will probably go down as the best dunk of the college basketball season.

(No, seriously, you need to see what Grayson Allen did.)

After the game, Duke had a special visitor in their locker room: soon-to-be free agent Bryce Harper, who seems destined to break the hearts of Washington Nationals fans when he leaves D.C. for the Yankees. I’m sure this will only boost his popularity in a city that loves the Maryland Terrapins:

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via @DukeMBB